Once the winter came, I had a few sessions on a local lake with a friend, Adam. It was great to have some social trips, as the rest of the year I never do it; my fishing is always totally on my own. We had some success too with my best at 27lb, and Adam having a stunning 34lb common on one of the colder days of what was generally a nice mild winter. These trips also gave me the chance to try out some new things for the season ahead, some of which I liked and have taken into my angling full time. I had been given a new prototype pop-up hook of the Covert Dark Chod Hooks, and these were perfect for both my chod and stiff link fishing. The tester ones were uncoated, and came in a silver stainless finish, but they had done me well. The colour certainly hadn’t put the fish off, but as I began running low, I couldn’t wait for the new coated ones to arrive, as they are sure to be another edge.

Once mid February came, and the days started to draw out, I began my proper session fishing again. With these longer days, I’m sure we carp anglers think that is it, the spring is here and the fish are all going to be really having it. That is certainly not the case, and a cold spring can be worse in results terms than a bitter long winter. It was nice to get digging out the kit I needed for longer trips like the turkey curry I’d frozen, made with the leftovers of Christmas, but I still kept the thermals and hot water bottle in.

I had a couple of trips to Kingsmead with the knowledge that it had produced a few, and hopefully there was a chance of an early fish. It looked bleak though, and with nothing to go on, I had to make a couple of guesses as to where to start. The first trip was a bit of a disaster in that I lost a good fish. I started off in one swim, on a guess, but in truth it was one of the popular ones, which I vowed not to do! One night in there, on the end of a cold wind I couldn’t get out of, and with stronger winds forecast, I hastily packed the gear at first light and headed round to the opposite side, which was flat calm and in the sun. As the day wore on I could tell things weren’t going to plan, as the wind swapped round, back into me, and a bank of black clouds brought hail and cold rain that made it look and feel like December. I had the rods out well, but as the wind increased, I doubted I could have accurately hit the spot at 70 yards again in what was proving pretty uncomfortable conditions.

That night the wind built up more, with bits of branches falling from the trees and waves hitting the boards at the front of the swim and sending spray right up the bank. Twice that night I had the rods blown off the rests, and when the buzzer on the right hand rod let out another series of bleeps in the early hours and in the absolute height of it, with me hanging on to the brolly, I imagined it was another branch blowing through the lines. In truth I wasn’t that quick to get out, and when I did I found myself attached to a fish that was plodding round out in what looked like the North Sea out there. It was hard holding the rod vertical in the wind, and I got it all the way back, only for it to drop off at the net!

The next trip wasn’t much better either; the first night was one of solid rain, while the second night the sky finally cleared, and it dropped down to -3! I was already getting fed up with poor weather, and the spring couldn’t come quickly enough.

The lake closed in mid-March, but I had other plans for another local lake that I don’t fish much now, but is always good for an early bite, as it seems to wake up earlier than most of the ones in the same area. I had a couple of walks round, each time with the marker rod and a kilo or so of my favourite Essential B5, but I already had a good idea of the first places to look for them. Spring and snags are joined at the hip in my mind, and this lake had a small, sheltered bay full of snags and overhanging trees, off the cold winds but catching most of the sun all day long. I was stood on the high bank looking into the mass of tangled branches below, when deep down, right on the bottom, a good fish glided slowly under them. This was followed soon after by another, and that was good enough for me. They’d obviously only just woken up, as both fish were moving almost in slow motion. This was the place to be then, and I spent a while with just a lead finding something to fish to, wanting to do this when not actually fishing, as I knew I needed to keep the disturbance to a minimum within the enclosed confines of the bay on my actual sessions.

This was limiting too, as there were a number of areas that I could fish, but which would have presented serious problems trying to get anything out, so severe were the snags. Where I had seen the fish was the prime example, as not only were there the tree branches below the surface, but the lake bed was littered with old metalwork too. I wasn’t doing that, and although I was kitted up with strong gear, I was only going to fish spots I knew I was going to land fish from. I remembered a spot from many years ago, one that had produced a couple of fish for me, but it had disappeared over time when I started fishing lakes elsewhere. This spot had produced a very special fish twice for me, its only two known captures ever, and I concentrated my efforts on that first recce trip trying to find it again. This wasn’t easy, as the branches overhead told me that no one had cast out in that direction for quite some time, and my first attempt cracked hard into the woodwork above, meaning I had to get on my knees just to miss them.

About 20 casts in, I suddenly got one to crack down, and on pulling the lead I got the gentle tapping of broken ground that I remembered from all those years before. It was tiny though, and with one slight pull I was off it and in surprisingly thick weed, the legacy of a mild winter. I clipped the rod up and measured it against my rod at home using the distance sticks in the garden, and when I had done another baiting up visit, I was back pushing my barrow fully loaded across the flooded field towards the lake.

I was using the some new line in 18lb, and straight away I knew this was exactly what I was looking for. It was super strong, but with sinking abilities matching a fluorocarbon and a lovely subtle colour – just what I needed in this snaggy situation. Coupled with a nice big size 5 Chod Hook, I had good covert aspects, strong hooking power and every confidence in the strength of it all.

The rods went out well, both with short stiff rigs on with screwed-on pink pop-ups, my now favourite colour to fish over the standard dark red of the B5. I’d boosted up the bottom baits with a coating of Salami glug whilst frozen, and on thawing, the coarse nature of the base mix had drawn it all in. The beauty being with the main spot was you were either on it or not; it was that easy to tell, and after a few attempts I felt a lovely dull thud down the blank as the lead hit solid bottom. I didn’t pull back at all, knowing the stiff boom of the hinge rig would kick the bait well away from the lead as it feathered down. This rig has to be fished helicopter/rotary style to get the best from it, and I find it strange people use a soft boom section, as the bait separation on a stiff mono boom is one of its greatest advantages. With an aggressive curved hook link section, this rig doesn’t rely on the lead for hooking, which meant I could use nice small chod leads that hit the surface with a gentle plop, rather than an almighty splash. I slackened the lines off, and had them hanging vertically down from the rod tips with the bobbins resting on the floor, so all in all I couldn’t do it any better.

I neither saw nor heard anything, which was disappointing, as if they’re in this bay, you generally hear them at some time. However just before first light I had a take on the rod fished on the old spot. It was only half a run, as when I picked the rod up it was already in the weed behind, and with steady pressure it came out, discharged the lead, and I gave it as much as I dared to keep it in the safe open water in front. After a few spirited runs I drew it over the outstretched net. I could tell it wasn’t a monster, but it was a cracking long jet black mirror, a real confidence boost so early, that was well hooked in the lower lip, the strong tackle easily taking the strain. As I held it up for the camera it felt as cold as a block of ice, but I had every faith in getting more from this sheltered bay. I left that morning, but kept the bait trickling in knowing I was back for another single night the week after. The coot population showed interest though, and I wondered if bringing bait to their attention wasn’t a good idea.

To be continued…